1922 Pulitzer Winner’s Kansas Home Now a Museum

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(AP) William Allen White’s house was more than just a place for his family to eat and sleep.

It was a think tank of its day, where movers and shakers gathered to exchange ideas and hear The Emporia Gazette editor and publisher’s wit and wisdom on a multitude of issues.

From 1895, when he bought the newspaper for $3,000, until his death in 1944, White wrote countless editorials. Many received a wide national audience, including “To an Anxious Friend” in 1922, which won a Pulitzer Prize. He also wrote some 30 books.

Seven presidents, from William McKinley to Herbert Hoover, came calling as guests at White’s home. Politicians, authors, and artists sought advice and companionship.

Despite his fame, White didn’t forget his Kansas roots at Red Rocks, the three-story, red sandstone and brick Tudor house on a spacious corner lot.

And, with the opening of the home earlier this year as a state historic site, visitors can now get a glimpse of how the house looked in White’s day.

“Hopefully, the house will let people know how he played a role in American history,” said Chris Walker, White’s great-grandson and editor and publisher of The Gazette, still a family-owned newspaper.

The Kansas State Historical Society and volunteers worked for months to make the grounds and house look much as it did from the 1920s — after a fire forced the family to remodel it — until White’s death. His story is told with much of the original furniture, furnishings, books, and memorabilia.

The work was financed by a $700,000 federal grant after the family donated the house to the state in 2001. The William Allen White Community Partnership will run the site and raise funds.

The living room walls are white plaster and dark wood paneling with a large stone fireplace. The room includes furniture used by the White family, bookcases filled with his books, and a secretary-bookcase with dinner plates from czarist Russia and glassware from Pompeii.

The master bedroom and White’s study are on the second floor. At the top of the stairs is a large portrait of White’s wife, Sallie, from 1902.

The bedroom now has a bed in which five presidents slept, including Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. There’s a rug fashioned from a jaguar that Roosevelt shot in 1910 and sent to White’s son, William Lindsay White. A steamer trunk and suitcases the Whites used when traveling are stacked in a corner.

Down a hall, past walls covered with photos — including one of Albert Einstein — is the study. White’s old desk, where he did much of his writing, faces a large fireplace as it did when he used it.

The furniture is new so the room can be used for gatherings. Walker hopes the house will be more than a monument to a memory.

“They have their job of preserving the history and we have a vision of keeping it an active place,” he said.

It could be a venue for research, conferences and discussion groups and there’s talk about working with Emporia State University on a speaker’s program, Walker said.

Many editorials by the man known as the Sage of Emporia remain relevant, Walker said.

“He wrote with a style that transcends time. You can put in one of his editorials and think it was written today,” he said.

People still drop by the newspaper office to see where White worked and hardly a day goes by that Walker doesn’t get an e-mail request for copies of the old editorials.

The most requested is “Mary White,” a loving portrait of White’s 16-year-old daughter, written shortly after she died in a horseback riding accident in 1921.

Barbara White Walker has fond childhood memories of the house and her grandfather playing the piano in the living room. Among guests she met were Hoover, actress Joan Fontaine and writer John Dos Passos.

“It was an inviting house and a lot of interesting people came. It was a house where you always felt something was going on,” she said. “Mainly I remember him as a very jolly man. I thought of him as a Santa Claus.”

As for White’s legacy, she said, “He was able to show the world that a man, not only a journalist, but a man from a small town in the Midwest, could make a difference in the world. I really think it’s a great encouragement for young people.”

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